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Cannabis Spoof Lights Up The Stage

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Bold headlines proclaiming "Seduction of the Innocent," "Marijuana: Weed From the Devil's Garden" and "Menace to U.S. Youth" provide the backdrop to Mercury Players Theatre's production of "Reefer Madness," a musical comedy about drugs, sex, mayhem and murder.

Although this is the musical's Wisconsin premiere, "Reefer Madness" has a history that dates back to a 1936 film originally titled "Tell Your Children," an anti-drug propaganda piece that overemphasized the consequences of smoking marijuana. Contrary to its intent, the renamed film later became a cult hit in the 1960s and '70s, particularly among college students. In the last decade, "Reefer Madness" was rewritten as a musical parody and in 2005 released as a Showtime movie starring Kristen Bell and Alan Cumming.

Madisonians seem also to have embraced "Madness," and the first three nights of the Mercury production have filled near capacity. Distributing pamphlets in the Bartell Theatre lobby, representatives from the Madison chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws added a presence of serious social debate to the campy social satire on the stage upstairs.

The plot of "Reefer Madness" follows two wholesome high school sweethearts, Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane, who are torn apart after Jimmy is lured into the dark, sexy and surreal world of weed. Drug-induced orgies, theft, violence and cannibalism are some of the outrageous consequences that ensue to the tune of upbeat and witty songs and choreography.

Kelly Murphy was perfectly cast as the sweet and sunshiny heroine Lane, keeping her air of church-going, 4-H girl naivete even during her brief descent to the dark side.

Callie L.N. Johnson was a cast standout as the tragically beautiful but addicted Mae. She brought a captivating stage presence and melodramatic flair to her role as a kindhearted woman trapped by the crippling forces of evil.

Robert Daniel Graupner didn't stand out in his role as marijuana den leader Jack Stone. He appeared neither as seductive nor as slimy as his character of influence should have been portrayed. But he lit up the stage in wildly popular and hilarious appearances as a singing and dancing Jesus. Graupner had no trouble connecting with the crowd that cheered most loudly for him during his musical numbers, one audience member Saturday shouting "You rock, Jesus!"

For a company that doesn't specialize in musicals, the overall singing talent was rather impressive, particularly from Johnson and Murphy. The lead vocals, however, often competed with and were drowned out by the chorus, which was also good but needed to pull back its intensity in these spots.

Also impressive was the combined talent of the large cast and crew that made this an interesting, detailed and successful production. Director Pete Rydberg kept the audience engaged with a tight pace and high energy level from beginning to end.

"Costuminatrix" Jenni Schwaner Ladd added an extra touch of comedy in all the right places in designs that varied from sock-hop skirts to nude-colored spandex with strategically placed cannabis leaves. Fight coordinator Talish Jude Barrow gave polished and comic detail to the exaggerated slapping and tumbling throughout the play, and choreographer Cindy Severt provided brilliant and funny solo and group dance scenes, keeping the audience's eye moving and amused wherever it wandered on stage.

"Reefer Madness" contains brief partial nudity, copious herbal cigarettes and numerous scenes that will likely disgust and offend extreme social conservatives. However, those who filled the theater Saturday night showed loud and vocal appreciation, capping off the show with a standing ovation.

Judging from the musical's early popularity, the Mercury box office anticipates continued full houses, so advance ticket reservations are suggested.

The show delivers a product that is true to its warning, and this headline is not exaggerated: One whiff of "Reefer Madness," and people are hooked.

News Hawk- User http://www.420Magazine.com
Source: The Capital Times
Author: Rena Archwamety
Contact: madison.com
Copyright: 2007 Capital Newspapers
Website: Lifestyle & Entertainment
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